Express & Star

Film Talk: Dinner is served as chilling child vamp Abigail hits flicks

We’re far from Halloween, yet things are still very much going bump in the night.

Abigail: Alisha Weir as Abigail and Kevin Durand as Peter

It’s really nowhere near traditional scary movie season, yet with recent releases the likes of Immaculate and The First Omen, I somewhat feel like we’re being encouraged to let the horror in the house for bit of a special spring seance this year. And why the devil not?

Hot on the heels of the aforementioned spine-chillers, this week we’re vamping it up.

There’s no doubt about it, since the days of Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee, vampire flicks have been some of the most iconic to have graced the silver screen. Following in the footsteps of these two infamous Draculas, the legendary Gary Oldman took up the mantle of Transylvania’s not-so-favourite son in the 90s, while (as mentioned last week) long-haired hearthrobs Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt were also flexing their fangs as two of literature’s other most dastardly blood-suckers.

On-screen vampires have not always been designed to be the stuff of our nightmares of course, with a certain Mr Pattinson’s Edward Cullen setting hearts aflutter across the world back in the noughties. Yet it has to be said that the child of the night being exhumed for our pleasure this week is more of the traditional scare-you-senseless type.

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, Abigail takes the concept of children being little monsters to a whole new level.

In the titular role, Matilda the Musical’s Alisha Weir sheds off her sweetness to introduce us to a little girl with quite a bit more bite.

With Downton alumnus Dan Stevens and Kevin ‘Little John’ Durand also along for the ride, this one is set to get those cinema seats full this weekend.

But does this one hit the mark like a stake through the heart, or does a decent whiff of garlic see it off?

Enter if you dare...

ABIGAIL (UK 18/ROI 16, 109 mins)

Released: April 19 (UK & Ireland)

As children, many of us were taught by our parents not to play with our food. The title character of directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s abduction thriller, who presents as a 12-year-old girl, has been playing with her food for years – centuries, in fact.

Indeed, she giggles with delight when her meal of choice – a screaming human – fights back and threatens her with a sharpened stake or clove of garlic before she drains them dry of delicious life force with an impressively tapered set of teeth.

Abigail puts a morbidly humorous spin on vampire mythology peddled by Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, Charlaine Harris and Stephenie Meyer by trapping six strangers inside a Gothic mansion with a tween fanged fiend.

Blood flows freely in a playful script co-written by Stephen Shields and Guy Busick, which nods affectionately to horror tropes (characters are reluctant to split up but oblige to facilitate a steady kill rate) in impeccably staged set pieces that reference crucifixes, coffins, sunlight and mirror reflections for jump scares and laughs.

Alisha Weir scored top grades in the title role of Matilda: The Musical and she is monstrously entertaining here as the manipulative bloodsucker, who gleefully practises ballet pirouettes and hums Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake before she exsanguinates terrified prey of glossy crimson liquor. Co-stars are given sufficient screen time to tease out back stories before the first victim loses more than their dignity. Lambert (Giancarlo Esposito) recruits six strangers to sedate and abduct 12-year-old Abigail (Weir) from her family home and spirit the moppet to a remote location, Wilhelm Manor.

They must hold the “tiny dancer” hostage for 24 hours to earn an equal share of a 50 million US dollar ransom.

The kidnappers are selected for specific skillsets and to protect their identities, they take codenames corresponding to members of the 1950s Rat Pack: Dean (Angus Cloud), Frank (Dan Stevens), Joey (Melissa Barrera), Peter (Kevin Durand), Rickles (William Catlett) and Sammy (Kathryn Newton).

The cash-hungry sextet are blissfully unaware that their cherubic captive is a creature of the night, who will manipulate them to turn on each other or simply rip out their throats. Abigail is a satisfyingly gory game of cat and mice, reminiscent in its diabolical set up of Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett’s 2019 film Ready Or Not, which played a ghoulish game of hide and seek with cinema audiences and earned the duo side-by-side directors’ chairs for the most recent instalments of the Scream franchise. Barrera was one of Ghostface’s potential victims and she plays another feisty heroine, risking desiccation and dismemberment to return home safely to a young son.


Released: April 19 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Sometimes I Think About Dying: Dave Merheje as Robert and Daisy Ridley as Fran

For the opening 20 minutes of Rachel Lambert’s delicately observed drama comedy, adapted from Kevin Armento’s stage play Killers, the painfully introverted central character played with quiet conviction by Daisy Ridley barely utters a word.

She absent-mindedly plays with her lip as she answers emails, nervously kneads the flesh of her hands, scrawls a brief platitude in the leaving card of a colleague in an adjacent cubicle, and diligently files photocopies while others chit-chat about a docked cruise ship obscuring a view of the mountains.

Dressed in grey trousers and functional knitwear, Ridley’s thirty-something shrinking violet blends into the background of her office on the coast of Oregon.

Willingly trapped in a mind-numbing daily routine, she walks home alone every evening, pours a glass of red wine to accompany a microwaved dinner before a sudoku puzzle completed by the light of a flickering television, and then bed.

When she does eventually speak and introduces herself to a new work colleague (“I’m Fran. I like cottage cheese…”) the awkward silence that follows her simple declaration reflects the discomfort and aching loneliness that permeates every frame of Sometimes I Think About Dying.

Even with a brief 93-minute running time, Lambert’s film struggles to fill the silence with meaningful character development and discourse, relying heavily on Ridley’s committed performance to allow us inside the mind of her outcast, who has a reputation as “the go-to for office supplies”.

Fran (Daisy Ridley) traps herself in a bubble of isolation at the Port Authority in Oregon, working for an effervescent manager (Megan Stalter) who believes she has created a fun environment for her small team including shy intern Sophie (Brittany O’Grady) and proud dog dad Garrett (Parvesh Cheena).

While the rest of the squad connect, Fran daydreams about her own demise as stylised tableaux and silently steals a slice of cake from the retirement party of long-standing team member Carol (Marcia DeBonis).

The deathly gloom is lifted by the arrival of Carol’s replacement, Robert (Dave Merheje) from Seattle, who is amused when Fran points out that cottage cheese is actually a curd, not cheese.

An impromptu date at the local cinema with her cheerful co-worker followed by a shared slice of marionberry pie throws Fran’s meticulous routine out of kilter.

A deep-rooted fascination with her own mortality threatens to torpedo the fledgling relationship before it can take root let alone blossom.

Sometimes I Think About Dying is a gently paced study of solitude and mental wellbeing, punctuated by Fran’s suicidal ideations set to bursts of composer Dabney Morris’s jaunty score.

Ridley conveys her character’s insecurities without resorting to eye-catching tics, sparking lovely screen chemistry with Merheje’s movie-loving chatterbox.


Released: April 19 (UK & Ireland)

The Book Of Clarence: Anna Diop as Varinia and LaKeith Stanfield as Clarence

An opportunist capitalises on the rising fame of Jesus Christ in ancient Jerusalem in a comedy drama written and directed by Jeymes Samuel. In AD 33, Clarence (LaKeith Stanfield), twin brother of Thomas the Apostle (Stanfield again), finds himself heavily indebted to loan shark Jedediah the Terrible (Eric Kofi-Abrefa).

To ease his financial woes, Clarence hatches a hare-brained scheme to pose as a messiah and ride on the coattails of Jesus (Nicholas Pinnock).

His plan to be anointed the 13th apostle is initially scuppered until Judas Iscariot (Micheal Ward) asks Clarence to prove his worth by freeing a group of slaves.

A visit to the home of Jesus’s parents Joseph (Brian Bovell) and Mary (Alfre Woodard) doesn’t unfold as intended and the bogus saviour is interrogated by Pontius Pilate (James McAvoy).

Benedict Cumberbatch, Teyana Taylor and David Oyelowo co-star.


Released: April 19 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Butterfly Tale: Jennifer, Marty and Patrick

A crestfallen butterfly, who cannot fly but yearns to take part in the great migration, learns how to wing it in a computer-animated adventure directed by Sophie Roy.

Monarch butterfly Patrick (voiced by Mena Massoud) has one full-sized wing patterned with distinctive black and orange, rendering him unable to take flight.

He refuses to be left behind in the autumn while family and friends travel thousands of miles south to the forests of Mexico.

Accompanied by butterfly Jennifer (Tatiana Maslany), who has a fear of heights, and goofy caterpillar Marty (Lucinda Davis), Patrick stows away in a milkweed trailer for the epic odyssey.

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